By Sen. Jamie Eldridge/Guest columnist
Apr 11, 2010
Proponents of expanded gambling in Massachusetts say it’s all about jobs for them — and I take them at their word. Indeed, there’s no doubt that bringing casinos to Massachusetts would create some new jobs.
But what gambling-supporters fail to mention is the jobs that will be lost as well as those that will be gained. They don’t mention the local businesses, especially restaurants and entertainment businesses, that will suffer when casinos come to town, nor do they mention the effect that sucking billions of dollars out of the local economy, and sending it out-of-state to wealthy casino developers, will have on our communities.
This is at the heart of why I will be voting against any proposal to bring casinos or slot machines to Massachusetts — because I believe they would be bad for small businesses, bad for families, and bad for our communities.
The fact is, people only have so much discretionary income, especially in a recession. This means that for casinos to make a profit, people either need to spend money they don’t have, or people need to spend money at the casino that they would otherwise spend somewhere else. When consumers spend less locally on clothing, sporting events, electronics, meals out or tickets to a show, small businesses suffer and jobs are cut. We’ve seen it happen in other states, and it will happen here in Massachusetts, too.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. According to a newspaper interview with casino owner Donald Trump, “People will spend a tremendous amount of money in casinos, money that they would normally spend on buying a refrigerator or a new car. Local businesses will suffer because they lose customer dollars to the casinos.”
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump clearly is a man who knows something about casinos, and something about business — and when even a casino owner acknowledges that local businesses will suffer, it’s worth paying attention to.
Small businesses aren’t the only ones that will suffer. Expanded gambling has been shown to cause increased crime rates, including embezzlement, robbery, aggravated assault, DUIs, and auto theft. Local crime victims, and municipalities facing increased public safety costs, pay the price. Despite the promises made in the House’s casino bill about funding local aid, these additional financial burdens are unlikely to be made up by projected casino revenues.
Increases in problem gambling leads to distressed families, child neglect, suicide and bankruptcy. Domestic violence rates go up, as do foreclosures. Families break apart, and thousands of people become addicted. Why would the Commonwealth, whose mission is “to promote the common good,” partner and promote a product that leads to such negative outcomes for thousands of its citizens? Given the financial strength that Massachusetts has due to the diversity of its economy, does it really make sense to bring in a product like casinos that damages so many parts of that economy?
Finally, there is the cost of missed opportunities. There are more effective ways we could be spending our money. Top economists, including Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson, agree money spent in casinos does not have nearly as much of a positive effect on the rest of the economy as spending and investment in other industries.
We need more jobs in Massachusetts, but expanding gambling is simply not an effective long-term economic development strategy. There are better strategies for creating jobs and promoting economic growth in the Commonwealth that don’t come with the significant downside that casinos bring.
I’m not insensitive to those who are currently unemployed, including many in the construction industry who are desperate for work. I understand that joblessness has social costs too, and it’s not easy to oppose a solution that would certainly help some families in my district.
But the job of the Legislature is to look at the bigger picture, and think about the impact the actions we take now will have on generations to come. Casinos might be an easy short-term fix, but we’ll have to live with the consequences for decades to come. I truly believe that bringing casinos and slot machines into our state is a bad gamble for Massachusetts, and that’s why I’ll be voting “no” on expanded gambling proposals this spring.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge is a Democrat representing the Worcester and Middlesex districts.